Giving Back: The Joys of Pro Bono Work

Photo Credit: Master Isolated Images at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo Credit: Master Isolated Images at freedigitalphotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

During the holiday season, I think there’s a natural tendency to evaluate all forms of giving, including the gifts you can share with pro bono clients.  Many clients in need of pro bono services have profound PR or marketing needs with a driving sense of mission or cause, and I’ve found that working with such clients can deliver invaluable benefits.  There is definitely a rewarding satisfaction, sometime life-changing, when a successful campaign awakens the public to their causes.

Additional benefits, beyond the feel-good, spiritual satisfaction, include:

  • Working with pro bono clients, many of which are non-profits, puts you in touch with new community contacts.  They are often community leaders, and excellent word-of-mouth recommendations for additional business may come your way as a result.
  • Your name and/or business name becomes affiliated with a worthwhile cause within the community and elevates your presence.
  • Working with pro bono clients, many of which do not have large amounts of money for PR and marketing campaigns (you’re working for them pro bono after all) stretches your talents in new, innovative ways.  Seeking free or low-cost services for them, or establishing cost-savings partnerships, helps you flex your creative muscles.
  • You may also be able to “play” with marketing tools that you normally don’t touch during your regular business days.  You may enjoy the creative freedom of developing a blog/website for a pro bono client, for example, and therefore develop new skill sets.
  • There are also tax deductible benefits!

Of course, sharing your talents and gifts are one thing; running a business is another.  Your pro bono work needs to mesh with your (paid) client workload.  Here are a few tips to avoiding pitfalls:

  • While it’s common business practice to make sure every client feels as if they are your only client, your pro bono clients sometimes need to know there are limits to your generosity.  Set defined limits, whether in hours per week or meetings per month, etc.
  • Create PR and marketing goals for your pro bono clients just as you would for paying clients.  This will help you define expectations and specific tasks which you will perform.
  • Evaluate your pro bono work on a regular basis such as annually.  Are you still enjoying the work?  Does the organization still need you?  Is there another organization with which you’d rather be donating your time and expertise?

I’ve had the pleasure of donating my time to several organizations through the years.  The one that I’ve worked for the longest has been my church, one of the largest congregations in Gettysburg, which means there is always something happening!  I enjoy the challenge of using my public relations and marketing skills to deliver Christian messages.  Personally, I have enjoyed getting to know partners throughout the community such as the heads of area non-profits who gathered recently for my publicity shot.  They were the recipients of nearly $50,000 in combined donations from our church—what an amazing message to share with the community.  I’ve also had the privilege of visiting with the talented ladies of our church quilting bee, as they worked on their 700th quilt to be donated to victims of world disasters.  It was a joy to see more than 30 youth gathered on the steps of our church for a publicity photo, as they prepared for a mission trip to New Orleans. There are many additional memorable “stories” that I treasure.

I am also thrilled to begin a new pro bono endeavor:  Handling PR duties as a board member with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.  Habitat’s vision, “a world where everyone has a decent place to live” is a mission with which I strongly identify.  I look forward to rolling up my sleeves, but also enjoying getting to know a dynamic set of leaders and publicizing the many positive stories they are sure to generate in 2013.

During this holiday season, I encourage you to consider “giving” in a new light:  Giving of your talents and skills to make a difference in your community.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow.  The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  -Abraham Lincoln

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